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Can you trademark a color?

Many iconic brands are associated with a specific color scheme, which becomes part of the business’s or product’s image. As a result, these companies may feel it is prudent to protect a specific color to prevent competitors from using it to mislead consumers. This legal tactic has had varying levels of success, as explained by Business Insider.

It’s important to understand what trademarks entail in such a case. This is distinguished from registering a copyright on a color, which would mean only your business would have a right to use that color for advertising. Rather, a trademark protects the way color is used in a particular industry, such as a certain shade or color combination that represents the brand. This often takes a number of design elements into account, with color being an essential component.

For example, the widely known logo for Home Depot includes a specific combination of elements on an orange background. When arranged in this combination for advertising purposes, these elements are trademarked and can only be used by Home Depot. In the same vein, heavy machinery manufacturer, John Deere trademarked the combination of green and yellow as a backdrop along with its iconic deer symbol.

However, not all companies are as successful in their efforts to get others to discontinue use of their signature colors. Such was the case when wireless telecommunications company, T-Mobile wrote a letter to the owner of a tech website, Engadet for using its signature magenta shade in its advertising and design. While T-Mobile alleged that the use of the magenta color would be confusing for consumers, the matter never materialized into a lawsuit.